By Alex Bridges
A poultry manufacturing plant in Edinburg under investigation for polluting a nearby stream in late August violated its permit again beginning last week.
George's Chicken on Oct. 28 released more ammonia with its wastewater into Stoney Creek than allowed by its state permit, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
The amount of ammonia in the effluent released from the treatment facility at 117 Screech Owl Lane rose to more than five times the permitted limit, and levels remained high Sunday, according to Noel Thomas, compliance inspector senior at DEQ's valley regional office.
"I don't think we have human health concerns regarding the levels of ammonia to the stream," Thomas states in an email Monday. "Our concern would be a toxicity concern for the aquatic life."
However, heavy rainfall brought by Superstorm Sandy last week likely helped to dilute the ammonia released into the stream, according to Thomas.
"DEQ is continuing to monitor the situation," Thomas states.
The wastewater treatment facility that handles releases for George's Chicken, 19998 Senedo Road, and the nearby Mountain View rendering plant violated its state permit in early August after releasing high amounts of ammonia, according to the agency.
DEQ enforcement agents continue to work with George's Chicken on the permit issue and the case from early August is ongoing, Thomas states.
But last week volunteers with the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River noticed the discharge from George's again did not appear normal, according to a member of the organization's board. The group advised DEQ and officials explained the plant had been experiencing more discharge problems and exceeded its permit, the member stated in an email.
"The plant appears to have lost nitrification ability," Thomas states. "All of the other parameters at the plant are reported to be within normal ranges and no unusual activity is known."
Reports of the discharge location indicate the water had some patchy foam dissipating in the first 75 yards, Thomas states. The discharge is not reported to be turbid nor is there a noticeable plume in the stream, according to Thomas. Recent storms kept the stream running high, he added.
The DEQ permit limits the plant to 8 milligrams per liter of ammonia in its effluent, according to Thomas. On Oct. 28, the wastewater had 8.9 milligrams per liter. Thomas stated in an email George's began conducting more tests to monitor levels. The amount of ammonia increased to 20 milligrams per liter by 6 p.m., Thomas states.
George's notified DEQ of the discharge and ammonia levels the following day.
However, ammonia levels continued to increase on Oct. 30 to the mid-30s with the highest amount reported at 42 milligrams per liter. Values reported Sunday were 37 milligrams per liter at 7 a.m. and 36 milligrams per liter at 1 p.m., according to Thomas.
Plant workers initially suspected quaternary ammonia caused the problem and responded by adding a chemical to neutralize it, Thomas explained. Quaternary ammonia, a compound commonly used as a cleaner, can interfere at lower concentrations with biological wastewater treatment systems, according to Thomas. Most treatment facilities no longer use the compound, he added.
However workers did not locate a source of the quaternary ammonia in the plant or from any other operation serviced by their system, according to Thomas. As of Monday workers had begun to add nitrifiers in an effort to regain plant treatment efficiency, Thomas stated. Workers also continued their search for a cause in the facility's loss of nitrification in its biological treatment system.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org